MANILA – Senator Christopher Lawrence Go on Saturday renewed his call for the immediate creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) as the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) continues to threaten the livelihood of Filipinos working abroad.

Go said the passage of his proposed DOFW bill is necessary to mitigate the negative impact on the welfare of Filipino migrant workers, especially those who lose their jobs overseas and are forced to return home.

“Ngayon na napilitan silang (OFWs) umuwi dahil sa krisis, dapat lang bigyan ng sapat na atensyon ang kanilang mga pangangailangan para matulungan ang ating mga bagong bayani na makabangon muli (Now that they have no choice but return to the country due to the crisis, we need to respond to their needs to help our new heroes recover),” he said.

Go’s Senate Bill (SB) 202 or the proposed Department of OFW Act filed in July 2019 remains pending in the Senate committees on labor, employment and human resources development; foreign relations; and finance.

SB 202 seeks the establishment of a new department that has the sole authority to deal with OFWs’ concerns and respond to their needs.

“Nararapat lamang na may tumutok sa mga pangangailangan ng OFWs, lalo na ‘yung mga napilitang bumalik sa bansa. Matagal rin po silang nag-sakripisyo at nawalay sa kanilang mga pamilya. Hindi po matutumbasan ang hirap na dinanas nila para lang buhayin ang mga pamilya nilang iniwan dito (It’s necessary to respond to the needs of OFWS, especially those who are forced to return to the country. They sacrificed and left their families for a long time. Their sacrifices should pay off),” Go said.

Around 300,000 OFWs are expected to return to the Philippines due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As of May 25, some 27,000 OFWs have already been repatriated.

About 43,000 are scheduled to come home in June.

Go emphasized the need to provide reintegration programs for OFWs who would like to return and permanently settle in the country.

He added that there should be improved coordination among concerned government agencies and offices that are dealing with OFW-related concerns to improve government service delivery.

“Mas maisasaayos ang mga programa at serbisyo ng gobyerno para matulungan ang mga apektadong Pilipino kung mayroong sariling departamento na mamamahala sa mga pangangailangan ng mga OFWs (The government’s programs and services for affected Filipinos’ would improve if there is a department that would attend to the needs of OFWs),” Go said.

Go said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) needs to concentrate on domestic labor concerns while the DOFW, once created, can concentrate on OFWs for their full-cycle migration, from departure from the Philippines to working abroad until their eventual reintegration in the country.

DOLE is currently implementing Welfare, Employment, Legal, Livelihood (WELL) as a national reintegration program for returning OFWs affected by Covid-19.

WELL program is a package of interventions and mechanisms developed and implemented to facilitate the productive return of OFWs to their families and communities upon their completion of overseas employment.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority also offers free training programs for returning OFWs.

Go said the DOFW’s reintegration component will ensure that OFWs who lost their jobs abroad due to the pandemic are assisted by government programs and other safety nets.

“Under our DOFW Bill, there will be an Office of the Undersecretary for Reintegration and Social Services which shall absorb the mandates and functions of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs in addition to new functions,” he said.

SB 202 also provides for the creation of OFW ‘one-stop shops’ in various provinces, similar to the Malasakit Center, that can provide immediate assistance to families of OFWs who are still working abroad, as well as to OFWs who have returned home and would need to avail of reintegration services from the government. (PNA)